Renton is a city in King County, Washington, United States. Situated southeast of downtown Seattle, Washington, Renton straddles the southeast shore of Lake Washington, at the mouth of the Cedar River. While long an important salmon fishing area for Native Americans, Renton was first settled by people of European descent in the 1860s, and its early economy was based on coal mining, clay production, and timber export. Today, Renton is best known as the final assembly point for the Boeing 737 family of commercial airplanes, but it is also home to a growing number of well known manufacturing, technology, and service companies, including Boeing, Paccar, Parallels, Inc., Providence Health & Services, and Wizards of the Coast. The population was 90,927 at the 2010 census. Renton currently contains the 8th largest population in the state, and the 4th largest in King County.
The town of Renton was founded as a farming site by Erasmus M. Smithers who discovered coal there and brought in Charles D. Shattuck as coal mine operator. Renton was incorporated as a city in 1901 (September 6) when coal mining and timber processing were the most important economic industries in the area. The town was prone to flooding from the Cedar and Black Rivers. In 1916 the completion of the Lake Washington Ship Canal lowered the surface of Lake Washington several feet which consequently eliminated drainage of Lake Washington through the Black River. The Cedar River was then diverted to drain into Lake Washington instead of the Black River. The culmination of these actions reduced the threat of annual flooding.
Paccar has traditionally been a large employer in the city as well with its Kenworth Truck plant located in Renton's industrial area on the south end of Lake Washington In 1907 the Seattle Car Mfg Company also known as the Car Company moved to a large manufacturing plant in Renton after demand for the company's railroad equipment exceeded the capacity of its Seattle plant. The Car Company was the only manufacturer of train cars on the west coast. Seattle Car expanded from building logging cars to many types of railway cars, in 1909 building passenger cars for China's Sun Ning Railway, and refrigerator cars in 1909. The Renton plant expanded to foundry capabilities in 1911, and Seattle Car and Foundry Co merged with the Twohy Brothers of Portland in 1917 and became the Pacific Car and Foundry Company or Paccar. During the great depression the Renton Paccar plant developed power winches for use in the logging industry. When World War II arrived the Renton manufacturing switched its production towards the war effort, and by the wars end in 1945 had built 1,500 Sherman Tanks. In the second half of the 20th century Paccar's train cars manufactured at the Renton facility were of such high quality that there was not enough repeat business, rail equipment in 1965 came to only 1/3 of the company's sales. The Paccar Renton plan manufactured structural steel until the 1970s recession, and in the early 1980s the Paccar Railcar Devision; the last vestige of the original Pacific Car and Foundry Co closed down. In 1993 a new Kenworth assembly plant opens on the former site of Pacific Car and Foundry. The Kenworth truck manufacturing facility in Renton is named as a leader in King County's Best Workplace for Recyclers.
The population sharply increased during World War II when Boeing built their Renton Factory to produce the B-29 Superfortress. The factory has continued to operate since then, and still produces 737 aircraft. It also produced the Jetfoil and Pegasus class hydrofoils in the 1970s. As of 2001, 40% of all commercial aircraft in the air were assembled in Renton. Boeing remains the largest employer in Renton, which is home to over 10,000 employees and three of the aerospace giant's six major business divisions: Boeing Commercial Airplanes, Boeing Capital Corporation and the Shared Services Group. The local newspaper in the 1970s, the Renton Chronicle, proclaimed the city the jet capital of the world.
Game company Wizards of the Coast also is headquartered in Renton. Providence Health System has centralized is administrative offices in Renton.
Owing to its location at the confluence of three major freeways (I-5, I-405, and SR 167), Renton's economic development team has lured a number of specialty retailers that draw consumers from around the region, including Fry's Electronics and IKEA. Some retail establishments were unwanted though, and the city successfully defended zoning restrictions on pornographic theaters before the U.S. Supreme court in Renton v. Playtime Theatres, Inc.
Renton has a unique and well-loved institution in its library, built directly over the Cedar River. Designed by Johnston-Campanella & Co. in 1964, the Cedar River Library stretches across the river, next to Liberty Park. The walkway in front of the library's entrance forms a deck from which salmon can be viewed as they make their way up the river, particularly during spawning season. Most recently, the iconic building has been the center of much controversy, with the City of Renton and the King County Library System developing plans to build a new library closer to the downtown core. Residents wishing to retain the library in its river setting sponsored a petition, and were ultimately successful in convincing City leaders to put the issue to a vote of the people. On August 7, 2012, Renton voters decided the fate of the library with Proposition 1, and found 76% of the voting population supporting the Cedar River location. Discussions continue between citizen activist groups, city leaders and KCLS over how the library plans will move forward in light of this change, and what affect it will have on the Highlands Library project.